As Ygritte states in Game of Thrones, “You know nothing, Jon Snow.” The same could be said about marketers: We know nothing about marketing.
Take a look at your social feeds, the events you attend and probably the books “others” read. They are full of people who “know it all,” from the list of commandments for success, the “ultimate plan,” four techniques to supercharge your marketing and so on.
I would say that if they really knew the recipe for success, they would not be writing, posting, preaching. They would be multimillion-dollar chief marketing officers (CMOs). The fact is that CMOs’ tenure is reportedly only 43 months (versus 88.4 months for CEOs), so it seems that no one really has the magic wand. No one really knows the solution, or to put it bluntly: We know nothing about marketing!
We know nothing about how societies work.
Karl Popper, one of the most influential philosophers of the 20th century, has been credited with saying, “No society can predict, scientifically, its own future states of knowledge.”
This means that we don’t really know how societies work to be able to have a firm plan/policy that will lead to a better society. Societies are complex systems, and we cannot deterministically establish cause-effect relationships.
You can see the same in economics (a subset of how societies work). In a Bloomberg article published in June, Liz McCormick stated, “It’s hard to wrap your head around just how low U.S. interest and bond yields are — still are — a decade after the Great Recession ended. Year after year, prognosticators said that rates were bound to go back up soon: Just be ready. That exercise has proved to be like waiting for Godot.”
The predictions are wrong because our model is wrong. It seems not only is it the weather forecast that challenges our ability to predict; economics and society models are falling short every day.
Popper was not hopeless. He used that understanding to fight communism and absolutist regimes that entail a fixed and centralized model of how things work. Alternatively, Popper proposed a model of open society that would include a continuous iteration of dynamics that would “search” for a better model for society. He told us that we must assume that every model is incomplete and suboptimal and that we need to iterate to find a better version of it. That was the basis of his defense of liberal democracy — simply stated, every election cycle would be an iteration, a new try to search for a better society.
And we know nothing about marketing.
If we know nothing about societies, why do we think we know everything about marketing?
If marketing is a subset of societal dynamics, can we assume that we actually know how to influence a group of people to buy (pay with some valuable item, such as money, time, attention, etc.)?
Consequently, if we know nothing about marketing, our best option, following Popper’s thinking, is to iterate our way to success. Marketing, for this matter, should be a continuous search for the best way to market a brand. However, I’m not talking just about A/B testing or experimentation with your next campaign. I think there’s a more fundamental mindset shift that needs to happen.
• Beware of what worked in the past (local optimization). We are in a different context now. Assume that is based on an incomplete model that doesn’t necessarily work in your current space (time, region, market, etc.).
• Keep experimenting and iterating. Take risks by not following the crowd.
• Most of what you read is about techniques, not the laws of physics. This means it is about techniques to scale a mountain (that worked in the past), not the physics of the condition you can face in the mountain and how your body reacts. If circumstances change and are not on your field guide, you’ll be in trouble.
• What we usually call wisdom comes from understanding the core, not the techniques. There’s no wisdom in optimizing a landing page. There’s wisdom in writing great messaging — yesterday, today and next year — because to write excellent copy, you need to understand the core of humans (and your promise).
If you want to know something about marketing, learn about human behavior (emotions, bias, persuasion, limitations) and how we understand messages, how we make decisions, how we are influenced. Be curious. Deconstruct great campaigns and brands. Look around and think, “why?”
Walking the talk.
At Unbabel, we apply these principles in several ways. First, we set the team mindset. We make it clear that we want to be the reference of the future. So, we cannot look at the past for a guide on what to do, just as a starting point. Everything that is “best practice” means it reached the mainstream, and it represents the average. And average is the goal of the mediocre.
Build your team with the right mix of sector experience and first-principles thinking. Forget “competition.” We’re not competing with companies that might offer something similar. The competition is much more significant. We are competing for attention. Imagine all the great brands (and big bucks) that are targeting your audience.
Any new technology will drive change in the customer. Compete for the capacity for a company to change, because there’s so much change a company can go through at any given time. Finally, focus on the core. For us, although we’re in the so-called business-to-business (B2B) sector, we interiorize that we’re people talking to people. No company writes a blog article or signs a contract — there’s always a human behind that.
You don’t have to do it this way; find your own way to market better than before and better than anyone else, share and keep experimenting. Beware of the LinkedIn gurus, stage performers and podcasters. They are probably doing something great, but they don’t have the solution you’re looking for.